The word Circle is used for more than one purpose within the magickal community. It is used to describe an important element of magickal ritual and also a group of people who perform magick together or gather for Pagan worship.
The Magick Circle
Many magickal practitioners create a circle as part of their magical ritual. The circle may first be marked out with chalk or paint, or drawn in salt or, more usually, it is visualized with no physical representation of the circle at all. All of the participants may stand around the perimeter of the circle or may stand in the center. A solo practitioner generally stands in the center. The circle is established using the energy of the practitioner(s) using means specific to their tradition. The energy encircles the area horizontally as well as vertically, creating something more like a sphere or bubble of spiritual energy.
The Purpose of the Circle
The purpose of the magical circle also varies by tradition. Ceremonial magicians use the Circle to protect them from the spirits they conjured.
Many modern practitioners use the Circle to contain energy that is raised during a ceremony, especially in groups, to be released at the right time. Usually, the area is first cleansed of unwanted energies so that only the energy required for the working can exist within it. Other energies may also be drawn in, particularly elemental energies before the Circle is complete so that their energies are available to the casters during their magickal work.
Casting the Circle
There are as many techniques for Circle casting as there are magical practitioners. For some traditions, the Circle must be a specific size (nine feet is recommended for Wiccans, but this is not a hard and fast rule). It may be physically marked out before beginning using prescribed materials and specific symbols or objects (such as candles) may be placed at specified locations around the Circle. For example, many witches place candles at the extremities of the four cardinal directions around the Circle. However, the Circle need not be physically marked at all.
Many people draw their Circle with a pointing device, a staff, a wand, an athame, a sword or simply a hand or pointed finger (preferably the dominant hand). The device may be used to draw from the center point of the Circle, or the practitioner(s) may walk the perimeter of the Circle a defined number of times. Usually, the practitioner must draw the Circle deosil and tradition often dictates which direction you should be facing as you begin and end.
Once the Circle is cast or closed, an invisible energy barrier has been formed. It is believed that crossing this barrier, known as “breaking the Circle” will weaken the barrier causing it to be less effective. Thus many coven and Circling groups have very strict rules about breaking the circle, once you’re in, you’re in. However, some believe that a door can be cut in the Circle to allow people to enter and exit without doing any damage. It is generally believed that animals can cross through with impunity.
When the work is complete, the Circle is opened or released, often by reversing the process that was used to create it in the first place, moving widdershins. But sometimes the opening process is much simpler. It may be cut with a sword or knife or simply declared open and the energy within released at the sound of a bell or clapped hands.
A Circling Group
A group of witches or magick users may sometimes refer to themselves as a Circle or Circling group rather than a coven. A coven implies a shared set of beliefs and oaths taken amongst the group. Using the term Circle to describe a group of magical practitioners implies that while the group performs magick together and gathers for some spiritual and social occasions, they do not necessarily share the same belief system and owe each other no oaths. Circles are often formed for training purposes or for family groups and general fellowship and Circle members may be involved with other groups as well.